Another TikTok challenge is wreaking havoc across the country, this time on the gastro-intestinal systems of tweens and teens, and there's been a case of serious illness here in San Francisco.
The "One Chip Challenge" is an arguably ill-conceived marketing campaign by Austin-based snack company Amplify Snack Brands, and their Paqui tortilla chip brand. The Hershey subsidiary started promoting the "One Chip Challenge" and selling the Paqui Carolina Reaper Madness chips in single-chip packages back in 2016. The challenge is to eat the single, super-spicy chip and wait as long as you can without drinking milk or something to cool the burn — and to post your reaction on social media.
But as with many things on the internet, they come around again randomly, and lately it's been teens and younger kids trying the "challenge" and potentially getting sick.
The latest "One Chip Challenge" craze led, allegedly, to the death of a 14-year-old boy in Worcester, Massachusetts last week, which has subsequently prompted Amplify Snack Brands to pull the chips from store shelves.
The chips seem to come out in new annual editions, with the chili pepper mix slightly different each year, and most recently they've come in coffin-shaped packaging. The 2023 edition was made with Carolina Reaper peppers — measured at over 2 million Scoville units for spiciness — and the Naga Viper pepper — measured at 1.4 million Scoville units.
These "superhot" chiles come from new hybrids being grown by attention-seeking chili farmers trying to outdo one another. The Naga Viper, for instance, briefly held the title of world's spiciest pepper in 2011 before it was outdone by a new hybrid. The Carolina Reaper has only been in existence since 2013, and it was bred by the PuckerButt Pepper Company of South Carolina.
A San Francisco sixth-grader, Jack Pedigo, tried one of these Carolina Reaper Madness chips from Paqui last Thursday, and he had an extreme reaction as well. As Pedigo tells KPIX, he seemed to have an almost allergic reaction and was having trouble breathing and moving after eating it.
"When I ate the chip, it was really spicy and all. When it was gone, I was fine. Then I was sick, I was in the office and my stomach started hurting, my hands were stuck in this position. I couldn't move them. I could barely open them up. It felt like they weren't even my hands," Pedigo said.
The child's father, John Pedigo, tells KPIX that the school called him to say that his son had been "poisoned." When he arrived at the school, an administrator explained that Jack had tried the "One Chip Challenge."
"I was like, 'You got to be kidding me. Is that what this is?'" Pedigo says.
Paqui/Amplify Snack Brands has put out a statement saying, "The Paqui One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods... We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings. As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves."
A spokesperson for the company tells the New York Times that this is not a recall, but rather a "voluntary retrieval."
"We care about all of our consumers and have made the decision to remove the product from shelves," the spokesperson said.
It remains unclear how widespread these bad reactions to the chips have been, or whether it has something to do with the new formulation of the pepper mixture. In January 2022, three high schoolers in the Central Valley town of Lodi were hospitalized as a result of their trying these chips.
Regardless, we don't need food to be so spicy it tears up our internal organs! Stop marketing these insane hot sauces and chilis! The end!